poured off him. He sagged helplessly against the door. "What do you mean?"
Ruth's black eyes flashed with anger. "Come on! I want to know where you were! Tell me! I have a right to know. What really happened?"
Ed retreated in terror, his resolve melting like wax. It was going all wrong. "Honest. I went out for a—"
"Tell me!" Ruth's sharp fingernails dug into his arm. "I want to know where you were—and who you were with!"
Ed opened his mouth. He tried to grin, but his face failed to respond. "I don't know what you mean."
"You know what I mean. Who were you with? Where did you go? Tell me! I'll find out, sooner or later."
There was no way out. He was licked—and he knew it. He couldn't keep it from her. Desperately he stalled, praying for time. If he could only distract her, get her mind on something else. If she would only let up, even for a second. He could invent something—a better story. Time—he needed more time. "Ruth, you've got to—"
Suddenly there was a sound: the bark of a dog, echoing through the dark house.
Ruth let go, cocking her head alertly. "That was Dobbie. I think somebody's coming."
The doorbell rang.
"You stay here. I'll be right back." Ruth ran out of the room, to the front door. "Darn it." She pulled the front door open.
"Good evening!" The young man stepped quickly inside, loaded down with objects, grinning broadly at Ruth. "I'm from the Sweep-Rite Vacuum Cleaner Company."
Ruth scowled impatiently. "Really, we're about to sit down at the table."
"Oh, this will only take a moment." The young man set down the vacuum cleaner and its attachments with a metallic crash. Rapidly, he unrolled a long illustrated banner, showing the vacuum cleaner in action. "Now, if you'll just hold this while I plug in the cleaner—"
He bustled happily about, unplugging the TV set, plugging in the cleaner, pushing the chairs out of his way.
"I'll show you the drape scraper first." He attached a hose and nozzle to the big gleaming tank. "Now, if you'll just sit down I'll demonstrate each of these easy-to-use attachments." His happy voice rose over the roar of the cleaner. "You'll notice—"
Ed Fletcher sat down on the bed. He groped in his pocket until he found his cigarettes. Shakily he lit one and leaned back against the wall, weak with relief.
He gazed up, a look of gratitude on his face. "Thanks," he said softly. "I think we'll make it—after all. Thanks a lot." * * *